As expected with Super Rugby, there were a couple of surprising results last weekend. The Kings made a grand entrance and the Chiefs continued their winning ways. The Brumbies are looking good early on, while the Force were dreadful. It is quite rare to pick seven out of seven consistently and if you can,hats off to you and you should be writing this article! Nonetheless, in a few of the games the rugby was of the highest standard, particularly in the New Zealand conference. This week three teams sit out with the bye, something that doesn’t really make sense to me having played only two rounds which reiterates the scheduling problems the administrators have with such a packed rugby calendar. Happy tipping, punting or predicting and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@S15_TheProfits) for game coverage, expert insight or just for a chat.
Best Bet 1: Crusaders – 4 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 2: Hurricanes – +6.5 @ $1.82 – Sportsbet
Best Bet 3: Crusaders/Waratahs/Chiefs/Bulls @ $2.21 – Sportsbet
Blues ($2.40) versus Crusaders ($1.58)
The first match of round three will be the season opener for the Crusaders as they look to hit the ground running against one of the surprise packets in round two, the Blues. The Auckland based franchise put together a collective performance against the Hurricanes and despite trailing at half time they managed to romp home and achieve a four-try bonus point, courtesy of a powerful and pacey backline. Head coach John Kirwan is renowned for developing struggling teams having coached both Italy and Japan in the last ten years. Coupled with the coaching expertise of Sir Graham Henry in a technical advisor role, the foundations are being laid for another Blues resurgence over the next few years.
The exciting thing about the Blues in round two was their positive attitude and superb skills, despite being their first game of the season. Their backline is full of X factor players including, Rene Ranger (centre), young talent Charles Piutau and Sevens specialist Frank Halai who scored a brace of tries on debut. Things didn’t go all his way as his performance was marred by a controversial penalty try awarded against him that also sent him to the bin for ten minutes. Piri Weepu did well to marshal his troops and the forwards laid a solid platform to let the backs take care of business.
I really see this season being an extremely important one for the Crusaders. In recent years, they have managed to stride their way to the playoffs before fading away, which is far from what we come to expect from the seven time champions. It has been said that the Crusaders have been guilty of not evolving and instead, sticking to winning formulas that have worked well in the past. This year both players and coaches have stipulated that they will play a more attacking brand, which will make for some exciting viewing. Teams don’t fear the Crusaders like they used to and I have no doubts that the Blues will feel they are in with a real shot. Despite losing Zac Guildford (disciplinary reasons) and Sean Maitland to Scotland and Richie McCaw taking a 6-month sabbatical, the Crusaders have still managed to field an experienced line up, with names like Fruean, Carter, Ellis and Read etc.
I think the Blues will be brought back down to earth this week and although they may get uplifted from their home fans for a period of time, the Crusaders core players are some of the best in the world in their positions and they will be hard to dismantle.
Predicted result: The Crusaders should open their account this weekend with a win @ $1.58 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Crusaders – 4 @ $1.90 – Sportsbet
Waratahs ($1.20) versus Rebels ($4.60)
The only all-Australian fixture of round three sees the Melbourne Rebels head north to Allianz Stadium in Sydney to take on the rebuilding Waratahs. The Waratahs suffered a demoralising loss against the Reds in front of a sea of red, but a week is a long time in rugby and they will be looking to utilise their massive forward pack to balance the ledger at home. The ‘Tahs got off to a slow start and trailed by a significant margin at halftime, but what I can only imagine as an extremely fiery halftime message from coach Cheika, the teamreturned with renewed vigour and drew level heading into the final quarter of the game. Substitute and third choice fly half Ben Volavola looked lively with ball in hand and despite showing some good touches, it is evident that Israel Folau is still very much a work in progress. On the night, he made a number of handling errors and was caught back pedalling instead of advancing on defence, however, he did manage to score a try and there is no doubt that he has a lot of potential and a place in rugby (unlike AFL).
On the other hand, the Rebels were outplayed by a very clinical and informBrumbies outfit. The Rebels opted to play an open and expansive game using their superstars Beale and O’Connor, however, they were plagued with injuries throughout the match and had to call on their bench very early. The Melbourne Rebels went into halftime with the lead, but they faded in the second half and their heads started to hang. Once again they were outplayed in the forwards and at the breakdown, two areas coach Damien Hill will have to bolster and improve moving forward. Centre, Mitch Inman looks to have raised his game to another level after touring with the Wallaby squad last year and his defence was relentless throughout the course of the match.
It must be said that the Australian derbies have been quite flat this year(understatement of the year) and even more so when you compare them to their Trans-Tasman neighbour’s equivalent. With both teams reeling from losses last weekend, this game has the ability to open up with a number of elusive and deceptive players on show. The Waratahs will assert their dominance through the forwards early on and with Kurtley Beale carrying an injured shoulder into the game they should be able assert their dominanceand come away with their first win of the year. Additionally, the Rebels have never beaten the Waratahs, but the $1.20 on offer is way too short to confidently buy into.
Predicted result: The Waratahs should win in front of their home crowd @ $1.20 – Sportsbet
Reds ($1.46) versus Hurricanes ($2.75)
The Reds welcome the Hurricanes to Suncorp Stadium on Friday night on the back of grinding out a win against their biggest rivals, the NSW Waratahs. Startlingly, the Reds haven’t beaten the Hurricanes since 2007, which is quite surprising give their recent successful campaigns. The Hurricanes cross the ditch after a disappointing first up loss in Wellington to the Blues and they facethe unenviable task if trying to derail their opponents in front of what should be a massive sea of red in Brisbane. This is without doubt, a match of the roundcontender.
The Reds are yet to get out of second gear this year, which is worrying for other teams with missed tackles, gift turnovers, aimless kicking, dropped passes and knock-ons occurring too often in their opening two games. The attitude is there, but they are still a few weeks and Will Genia away from playing their best rugby. The responsibility of the vice-captaincy tag seems to be benefitting centre Ben Tapuai, as he managed to score two tries and continues his positive development after becoming a regular in the Wallaby squad. Ed Quirk, the gladiator in the Red’s back row, has bulked up considerably in the last few months and had a great game on both defence and attack. The Reds young back row will only get better with age and additional experience, but it lacks balance after the departure of Scott Higginbotham.
As I mentioned in preseason, the Hurricanes are one of the most exciting teams in Super Rugby with the ability to score from any situation and any position on the field through their crafty and sizeable backs. I have no doubts that they will wow the crowd once or twice this weekend, but I don’t think it will be enough to contain this Reds team that is slowly starting to gain some momentum. The Hurricanes are littered with second-string All Blacks and captained by Conrad Smith, an exceptional rugby player. Both sides are packed with firepower and match winners across the park and this gamereally could go either way. One of the harder games to pick this weekend, weather permitting, I think the Reds may sneak it.
Predicted result: Reds to win @ $1.46 – Sportsbet
Best Bet: Hurricanes – +6.5 @ $1.82 – Sportsbet
Chiefs ($1.08) versus Cheetahs ($8.00)
The first game on Saturday sees the Free State Cheetahs come up against the reigning champions, the Chiefs in Hamilton. Having travelled half way around the world this week, the Cheetahs lead in hasn’t been ideal, however, that is what makes Super Rugby such an arduous competition.
In week two, the Chiefs managed to get the better of the Highlanders in Dunedin in what I believe was the best game of running rugby I have seen in a long, long time. The match was played at a frenetic pace and despite missing four starting backs through injury, The Chiefs managed to get the job done and pick up the maximum allotment of points in the process. Positive intent was shown by both sides and at times the quality, exceptional skill and blistering pace was breathtaking. You must watch the passage of play belowfor a snippet of the game last week:
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Now back to it. Captain, Liam Messam was courageous as always and Sonny Bill William’s influence looked to have rubbed off him as he continues to get better as a player in both the tight and the loose. Steve Walsh, the referee on the night allowed the game to flow as the lead changed hands several times. The Chiefs also benefitted from playing two fly halves, or first fives as they are called in New Zealand as they utilised a second wave of attack very well.
The Cheetahs started slowly against the Sharks last week in Bloemfontein, however, they fell just short after an enthralling second half performance. They will look to carry that momentum over to Hamilton and there is no chance that there will be a lack of motivation for this encounter as any team will want to knock over the reigning champs wherever possible. Their strong performance last week was triggered by a promising back row, which features three players who certainly aren’t household names. Heinrich Brussow, once one of the premier fetchers in the game is still a week away from returning and there is no doubt that he will make an immediate impact upon his return, especially on the deck. Young fly half Johan Goosen and the auspicious winger, Raymond Rhule had subdued games and no doubt will be looking toimprove their performances this week.
With a lot of talented players still to return from the Chief’s injury ward, they are going to be a huge challenge for anyone they come up against. This week it is the Cheetahs and with both teams playing a similar style of rugby, we could be in for another Friday evening blockbuster. In the end, I think theexperience of the Chiefs and the solid foundations that their game is built on,should be too good for a jet-lagged Cheetahs outfit and will prevail by more than a score, but I expect it to be a high scoring game.
Predicted result: Chiefs to secure their second win @ $1.08 – Sportsbet
Bulls ($1.08) versus Force ($8.00)
Two teams at opposite ends of the spectrum will clash at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night in what should be an open encounter. The Bulls put up acourageous performance to defeat last year’s regular season champions, the Stormers, despite having a number of players out with injury. A number of pundits believe that the South African conference will be a two horse race, however, the Bulls announced themselves last weekend as potential candidates. On the other hand, the Eastern Province Kings produced a huge upset in front of their home fans in Port Elizabeth to beat a dismal Western Force side. The Force now lies at the bottom of the Australian conference with a long way to go and the wooden spoon inching closer after this embarrassing loss
What is most disappointing for the Force is that they fought so gallantly against the Rebels in week one and although jet lag may have played a factor in the outcome of the match, there appears to be some more glaringly obvious reasons. Their goal kicking has been atrocious, they have been guilty of giving away numerous penalties at the breakdown, their discipline has been poor and their lineout has been woeful. It isn’t all doom and gloom for the Force though, as Pek Cowan has shone with the captaincy armband with some exceptional pick and drives and solid scrummaging. There are a few youngsters coming through the ranks, but the season already looks to be indisarray.
Morne Steyn and Pierre Spies showed what many sports scientists have been saying for a while, and that is that players at the highest level need an extended period away from the game from time to time. Both of these players didn’t feature in the autumn series and this break is evidently paying dividends. Morne Steyn put on a kicking exhibition, punishing the Stormers with accurate goal kicking and deft touches to the corners. Pierre Spies has stated he is the fittest he has been since he first broke onto the international scene and this can only be good for the Bulls and South African rugby. It must be said that the Bulls received scant reward for their territorial advantage and first half dominance, but they managed to turn it on when it mattered most. It wasn’t a complete performance but certainly one that they can build on in the weeks to come.
Pretoria is not an easy place to travel for any team and the Force will be up against it in front of a passionate Bulls crowd. This week, both teams will look to be more clinical and whether permitting, I expect a few points to be scored. This would be my most confident bet of the week, but as we all experienced last week, no result is a foregone conclusion until the end of the 80 minutes. The Bulls should take care of the Force this week and will look to bank a bonus point in the process.
Predicted result: Bulls to win at Loftus Versfeld @ $1.08 – Sportsbet.
Sharks ($1.58) versus Stormers ($2.40)
The Shark Tank will be buzzing on Saturday evening when the Stormers visit Durban and look to get their season back on track against the Sharks. Along with Suncorp Stadium, it is one of the best stadiums to watch rugby. Each game has a festival-like feel, with the locals setting up camp hours before the match, having ‘braai’s’ or bbq’s to us, with plentiful amounts of gorgeous women creating a lively atmosphere. Oh, and the rugby is usually of a high standard as well.
Looking back to last week, the Sharks started their fixture at a frantic pace in Bloemfontein before being reeled in late by a resurging Cheetahs outfit. Pat Lambie, the man of the match, struck the ball cleanly and was rewarded with 19 points from seven of seven kicking, on the back of a dominant forwardpack. He certainly got one up on his Springbok teammate Johan Goosen and this week he comes up against Elton Jantjies, who had a disappointing first up match against the Bulls. Usually deadly with the boot, he was wayward and failed to ignite a talented backline that has failed to score tries in recentmemory. Sharks winger, Lwazi Mvovo scored an opportunistic try as he used his raw speed to coast through a gap and it is a relief to see Francois Steyn bring his talents back to Super Rugby after a French sojourn.
The Stormers loss last weekend has come as a wakeup call and they will want to avoid a second defeat this weekend and Kings Park isn’t an easy place to visit. These night matches in February and March are always a challenge to play in and whichever team handles the humidity and the dewfactor with more conviction tend to be more profitable on the scoreboard. The Stormers have a team capable of beating anyone on the day and they will need their international stars to stand up this week and be counted. The pressure is on the Stormers and I think coach John Plumtree will be able to devise a plan built around their physicality that will eventually break down the Stormers defence. The Stormers aren’t a team that plays good catch up rugby and they might need to score a few too many this weekend.
Predicted result: Sharks to win @ $1.58 – Sportsbet